Will Chicago Finally Be Getting Friendlier to Cyclists?

By Kim Bellware in News on Mar 2, 2011 10:00PM

Chicago has been making gains as a bike-friendly city over the past decade, and with Monday's release of the Chicago Department of Transportation's first-ever bike count study, plans for the Windy City as a cycling hub look as if they're about to accelerate.

CDOT Commissioner Bobby L. Ware was quoted saying that the study "confirms what we already knew: That bicycles are a popular and convenient way to travel in Chicago." The numbers tell the same story, with a high of 3,121 cyclists on the corridor of 640 N. Milwaukee (between Erie and Ohio) on a random day in September 2009 during the CDOT count.

According to the study, CDOT compared bike counts to existing vehicle counts taken in the same locations. The modal split (or mode share) ranged from less than two percent to 21.9 percent in the mostly highly trafficked areas — like those along N. Milwaukee.

The study's findings, part of Chicago's Bike 2015 Plan, will be used to determine where resources should be allocated for new bike lines, signage and bike parking. CDOT plans to do run the count annually.

Cyclists may remember the automated pneumatic tubes running across the streets several yards in front of the designated intersections during the summer and fall of 2009. The counters, designed to count bicycles but not cars, were set out for 24 continuous hours Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on days with warm weather.

And while much has been made of Chicago's expansive Lakefront Trail and more than 110 miles of bike lanes, we still rank behind places like Portland, Austin, Denver and Minneapolis as a city accessible to cyclists; from signage and designated lanes to potholes and bike racks, the city has a few gaps to close before biking is as safe and as viable an alternative to cars as some of the bike friendlier locales.

Nevertheless, strong bicycle advocacy and the average eight additional miles of bike lane per year helped Chicago snag a 10th place spot among major cities on Bicycling.com's "Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities" list. In addition to opening the Bloomingdale Trail to bike commuters, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel wants to boost the number of new miles of bike lanes to 25.

Read the full CDOT Bicycle Count Study